Recovery requires the willingness to think differently … which is harder than you think

The process of recovery involves learning to think differently, which is much harder than most people realize. It’s not a matter of simply adding a few select pieces of new information onto what you already know.

That’s easy learning. Hard learning is when you’re forced to learn things that contradict what you already “know.”

It’s true that recovery involves taking in some new information that is easily assimilated, and fits into what you already believe to be true. If that were the bulk of it, recovery would be easy, and most everyone would be successful at it. But much of the learning in recovery forces us to evaluate what we’ve believed or assumed to be true … and it challenges us to re-think those ideas. It frequently challenges us to unlearn things, discarding the lies, distortions, and half-truths we’ve accepted — about ourselves, God, our past, other people, how life works, what makes us happy, etc.

We’re often told that recovery requires us to “trust the process.” This is just is another way of saying that we need to be willing to accept that some of the things we’ve thought (in the past) were stupid, are in fact really wise and important. And we must become willing to accept that some of the things we’ve thought (in the past) were wise and important, are, in fact actually stupid, and dangerous for our well-being.

How do we deal with new and contradictory information?

Does it make you uncomfortable to deal with information that contradicts what you previously thought was true? There are two kinds of people: (a) people who plug their ears to contradictory information, and refuse to change (b) people who are willing to accept the new information — after verifying its accuracy of course — and rethink their position. This is wisdom.

A principle I’ve gleaned from Chinese philosophers like Lao Tzu and Chuang Zhu is that it’s healthy for living things to remain flexible and soft … like a green branch that is able to flex in the blowing wind. When things become old and hard, they become brittle … like a hardened tree branch that is liable to crack and break. That which is alive is soft and flexible, and that which is dead is rigid and brittle. Of course it’s not a perfect analogy, and it’s not the Gospel truth for all occasions, but there’s an important truth there.

There is a fine line between having firm convictions (good), and being rigid and closed to truth (bad). For people in recovery, this mental flexibility is essential. It’s really important to come to grips with the things you need to UN-learn about yourself, your beliefs, your ways of relating. For people in leadership, this mental flexibility is also essential. You have to be willing to learn, to see things in new ways, to challenge your assumptions. Otherwise, you will lose touch with the people around you, and the environment your organization exists in.

John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he said, “I change my mind. What do you do?”

Help for starting–or supporting–a program for recovery from sexual struggles

In 2007, I developed a program to help people who were dealing with sexual struggles in their lives. Some felt comfortable calling these struggles an addiction, while others weren’t so sure about that label. It started out as followup, or “aftercare,” program for people who attended workshops I helped facilitate with Dr. Mark Laaser.

I think this program could help you, if you are wanting to start something — a group or ministry — to help others, or get more support for your own recovery.

When I created the Recovery Journey, I wanted to offer something different: I wanted to offer something that would work with — and help supplement — work people might already be doing with a therapist, or involvement with a 12-Step recovery group. I didn’t want to create something to compete against the many good programs already out there, or compete with therapists who do face-to-face work. I wanted to create something that would work with those other modalities.

And I wanted to offer something that helped facilitate a practice that I’ve come to believe is essential for long term sobriety:

Doing a little something every day
to support your recovery

As my sexualsanity.com website grew, I started to get people in the program who hadn’t gone to a workshop, and I found it worked just as well — if not better — for them.

Over the years I continued to tweak the program, and for some time now it’s been known as “The Recovery Journey,” and hundreds of participants have gone through it. I wish I had exact numbers. At this point, I think somewhere close to 400 people have gone through the program: about 300 sexual strugglers, and 100 partners of strugglers, who’ve gone through the companion program.

To find out more about the Recovery Journey, 

or sign up for it,

go to the website:

http://recoveryjourney.com

Here’s a little about the program, and a little about what I’ve learned:

1. Set a specific length of time. I decided to focus on a specific span of time, to make it something that people could dedicate themselves to going through as a transition time … even though we all know that recovery is a lifelong journey. With a nod to the recovery tradition of focusing intensively for 90 Days, I eventually set up the program to run for 90 Days.

I recommend this as a way of starting something with other people. Have a group meet for 3 months. Have everybody make a commitment to faithful attendance for that set amount of time. Then, if it goes well, you can decide towards the end of that time if you want to keep going.

2. Include some teaching to solidify a deeper understanding of addiction and recovery. I set up the program to include a short teaching segment, along with an action step to take each day (I’ll say more about the action step below). In my work with people in recovery, I came to see how essential it is to maintain focus on one’s recovery commitment. I came up with the principle that we need to do “a little something EVERY DAY” to remind us of our commitment, and help us move in the right direction. Continue reading Help for starting–or supporting–a program for recovery from sexual struggles

Recovery requires UN-learning, not just learning

One of my favorite lines from Lao Tzu reads as follows (as translated by William Martin):

If we hold on to thoughts, judgments, and opinions,
our minds will be cluttered and useless.
If we hold on to possessions,
our minds will contract in fear of loss.
If we hold on to the opinions of others,
our minds will be confused and exhausted.
The only path to a satisfying life
lies in letting go.
– Lao Tzu

Not long ago, my wife and I moved from a five bedroom suburban home to a two bedroom apartment in the city of Chicago. We let go of a lot of possessions on the journey from 3000 square feet to 1200! But don’t feel sorry for us … we wanted to do this. Now empty-nesters, we felt it was time to simplify our lives.

Letting go of stuff has its challenges. It wasn’t painful to let our possessions go, but it was a lot of work. It took time and effort, but it was worth it. It was helpful and freeing.

The importance and value of “letting go” applies to more than just possessions. Lao-Tzu also suggests that it’s important to let go of “thoughts, judgments, and opinions.” I agree … but with a caveat. I think the caveat is implied in Lao-Tzu’s verse, but not stated directly: it’s important to let go of thoughts, judgments, and opinions that are no longer accurate or helpful.

Just as we don’t jettison possessions that we still use, enjoy, and need; so we don’t jettison ideas that we still see as true and important. That’s not what we’re after. What we need is to be thoughtful, reflective, and humble enough to recognize that as time goes and as we grow, our understanding deepens. And we find that some of the things we used to think were true and important are really not.

Let me put it another way: the process of growth — intellectual, emotional, and spiritual — involves not only adding new insights and ideas, but letting go of old ones. It’s not only about “filling our cup” with new, clean water … it’s also about emptying our cup of the lukewarm, brackish water that is distasteful and unhealthy. Continue reading Recovery requires UN-learning, not just learning

After Rehab: 5 Ways to Bolster Your Recovery

I’ve worked with lots of people in recovery who’ve gone through an intensive workshop, and others who’ve been in treatment / rehab. These experiences are incredibly powerful … but relapse is still all-too-common. Workshops and treatment centers are only life-changing if the person who goes through them implements a solid program of recovery after they leave.

Adam Cook writes about recovery, mostly from substance abuse. He curates addictionhub.org, a go-to site for addiction resources. He writes here about how to set yourself up for success after being in treatment. Although he’s writing mostly for drug and alcohol addiction, and for those who’ve been in weeks-long treatment, I still think it’s worth thinking about for readers of this site. Much of this is applicable for people dealing with sex addiction, and also for those who’ve gone through shorter-term intensive workshop experiences.

But keep one thing in mind …

In recovery from addiction, you’ll often hear contradictory advice. Sometimes you’ll hear people say that you shouldn’t make major life changes in the first year of recovery. I think this is solid advice … but sometimes even this conventional wisdom needs to be challenged. Some of Adam’s suggestions below really are major life-changes. They make sense in the lives of people who’ve been deep in addiction, and have gone through an intensive intervention (such as rehab). For these people, major life changes are probably needed if they’re going to make their recovery stick. (Even so, notice that Adam concludes with the reminder to start slowly, even with major changes like some of what he’s suggesting.)

Read what Adam has to say, and reflect for yourself whether or not your life needs more drastic changes in order for recovery to stick.

Enter Adam …

Getting off drugs — or addictive behavior — is the easy part; it’s staying sober and finding the courage to start your new life that’s a challenge. While the first days and weeks are focused on the initial issues, such as getting through withdrawal symptoms, you’ll eventually have to use your newfound sobriety to build a life for yourself and your family, even though it feels like the world is against you. Here are a few ways to tilt the odds in favor of success.

1. Give yourself a blank canvas

While you can’t hide from your addiction, you can give yourself the opportunity to distance yourself from the past. Moving to a new location is like hitting a reset button, allowing you to start over on a new playing field, where no one has any preconceived notions about you. Don’t just settle for anywhere; US News & World Report lists lifestyle as one of the top five considerations when looking for a new neighborhood. If you rush into a move without making sure the area will enhance your sobriety, meaning it has the amenities to keep you on track, then you may be setting yourself up for failure. Continue reading After Rehab: 5 Ways to Bolster Your Recovery

Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction, part 2

The relationship between sexual abuse and addiction

The previous article in this series introduced the topic, clarified the terms, and focused on the relationship between sexual harassment and sexual addiction. This edition will focus on the relationship between sexual abuse and addiction.

First off, I want to acknowledge that this is a broad topic, and entire books are written about these themes by people who are experts in this subject. (One classic is The Betrayal Bond, by Patrick Carnes.) I’m writing here to share some of my observations, as a spiritual teacher, and as one who worked in the sex addiction field for a number of years, working with many hundreds of sex addicts.

Here’s my observation:

Many sex addicts have been victims of sexual abuse
(but of course, not all of them)
and only a small group of sex addicts become abusers.
Those who do become abusers have issues beyond addiction.

To be sure we’re clear about our terms, sexual abuse, as defined by the The American Psychological Associate (APA) is “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.” It is often used to refer to sexual activity with minors … those unable to give consent.

Many Sex Addicts Have Been Victims of Sexual Abuse

When kids are exposed to early sexual activity, they respond in two ways: They either shut down sexually, and withdraw from any kind of future sexual activity, or they shift the other way, seeking out sexual activity on a large, unhealthy scale. This creates the energy for sexual addiction, also sometimes referred to as “hypersexuality.”

Continue reading Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction, part 2

Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction: the differences, the overlap, and the treatment (part 1)


Reports of celebrities, politicians, and newscasters being ousted because of sexual abuse and harassment charges continue to dominate the news. Good!

Conversations about the problem of unwanted sexual advances — and the abuse of power to exploit people sexually — are uncomfortable but really important. When the #metoo social media posts went viral it was a stark reminder of how widespread this problem is.

For a number of years I worked in the recovery field — specializing in sexual addiction — and I’ve had the occasion to deal with these issues a LOT. Hearing the stories in the news lately has brought up a lot of thoughts. Let me share some of them …

First off, let’s get clear about the terms

SEXUAL HARASSMENT — Webster’s dictionary defines sexual harassment as “uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate, such as an employee or student.” Guidelines of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have formed the basis for most state laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. The guidelines state:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when:

  • submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,

  • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individuals, or

  • such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

SEXUAL ABUSE — Sexual abuse goes further than harassment in that it involves sexual contact (not just words) with someone unable to give consent (eg. a child, or someone with dementia) and thus involves some form of “forcible compulsion.” When force is immediate, of short duration, or infrequent, it is called sexual assault. The American Psychological Associate (APA) defines sex abuse as “unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.”

RAPE — According to Wikipedia, “Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without that person’s consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.”

Why these distinctions are important

Distinctions matter because there is overlap between these problems, and these overlaps can be confusing. Sexual harassment is different than sexual abuse and sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are sometimes used interchangeably, although the term “sexual assault” might best be used to describe unwanted sexual contact that does not involve penetration, reserving the term “rape” for unwanted sexual contact that does involve penetration.

Continue reading Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Addiction: the differences, the overlap, and the treatment (part 1)

The spiritual word for “hitting bottom” — we hear it less but need it more than ever

In recovery, “hitting bottom” is a core concept. To be willing to do the work required to overcome addiction, a person has to reach a point where they see that their life is not working. This happens when we experience suffering as a result of our addiction.

Hitting bottom happens differently to different people. What might cause someone to hit bottom might not be enough for someone else. In the early days of AA, the only people trusted to really “be in recovery” were those who’d lost everything to alcoholism. It was assumed that, unless someone had lost it all, they hadn’t hit bottom, and wouldn’t be ready to fully participate in the program.

It didn’t take long, however, for them to find that newcomers to the program had “hit bottom” in other ways. They’d experienced enough pain from family relationships, even if they hadn’t lost their family; or they’d experienced enough negative consequences in their work, even if they hadn’t been fired from their job.

“Hitting bottom” happens whenever you decide it happens. Actually there is no “bottom.” You can always lose more. I’ve seen people “hit bottom” when they were confronted by a teary-eyed loved one. I’ve seen others Continue reading The spiritual word for “hitting bottom” — we hear it less but need it more than ever

Advice for a woman whose boyfriend looks at porn and wants her to be his “accountability partner”

I got the following email from a woman who has been reading this blog. I thought it might be helpful to share her questions, and my responses (with her permission to share this). For those who might not be clear about the terminology, her boyfriend uses accountability software that creates a report about the web sites he looks at. She is his “accountability partner” in that she is the one who get the reports. Here’s her question, and my response  …

My boyfriend struggles with porn, and I’ve been his accountability partner (A.P.) for 6 months. I read his reports, which are sent as an email  every morning … and so I begin my day the moment I awake reviewing every word, site, text, you name it that’s in this report. It’s become part of my daily routine. Approximately 15 minutes a day I spend going over every detail, filled with anxiety I will catch him having done something. I’ve become addicted to monitoring him and I don’t trust him.

He’s told me he’s moved on from pictures and videos to gazing at real women in the world daily, and undressing them with his eyes. He said he is overwhelmed as they are everywhere and his problem is worse. He has no strong male support and I’m really the only one he can be held accountable to in his eyes.

It’s killing me. I can’t start my day without reviewing the previous day’s activity, and it doesn’t feel normal to track his every mood …  I finally told him last night I can’t do this. I begged him to let me off it. I cried, “Please…it’s killing me reading this daily. It seems you’ve been better, but I feel I’m the only one holding back your dam bursting. It’s wasting my days and I’m addicted to searching.” He began to cry.

(Later edit) Oh one more thing … he’s my ex boyfriend now. I broke it off a week ago from when this was written and he told me he’d still like me — his now ex-girlfriend — to be his A.P., regardless of my feelings. He knew I took being his A.P. seriously and that he absolutely would seek out bad stuff the minute I left the site, so I’m riddled with tremendous guilt over this. I haven’t left the site yet.

Ok, your thoughts….I’m sure you have an opinion here!

**********

My response:

Thanks for reaching out to me, and I’m sorry to hear about your painful story. As you suspected, yes I do have an opinion about this. Actually there are a few things that your email made me think of, so I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts in sort of a list form, more or less with some of my random thoughts and responses:

1. As a general rule, most sex addiction counselors (including me) do NOT recommend having the partner of a sex addict be the one to get the reports for Internet usage. I say “general rule” because there are probably always going to be some exceptions to any rule when it comes to relationships. But just so you know, I pretty much always discourage couples from doing what you guys have been doing … for the reasons you describe in your email. It creates additional suffering for the partner (you), because each day you’re reminded of this struggle, and you get triggered emotionally by reading through the reports.

Granted, some partners of sex addicts WANT to be reading the internet usage reports of the addict, if they’re struggling to trust the accountability process. They might need to see the reports themselves for their own peace of mind. Even in that case, it still is often damaging for them to be getting the reports, and they will often decide they don’t want to see them anymore.

2. Rather than have their partner reading thru his reports, a sex addict REALLY NEEDS to have a peer group, a sponsor, or some trusted person read them. This means that the addict needs to have another person he’s talking to about this, not just you. It puts too much pressure on you and your relationship for you to be both his partner and his sponsor. You are the beneficiary of his recovery, not the facilitator of it. Someone else needs to do that.

3. The fact that he doesn’t have another person helping him in his recovery is a big red flag. It’s going to be hard for him to recover without having other people to talk to. This is really really important.

Accountability software is a great tool, and is really helpful for people struggling with Internet porn, especially in the early stages of their recovery. So nothing I’m saying here is meant to disparage using this software … just that it needs to be seen as part of a larger set of commitments and actions that constitute “working one’s recovery.”

4. The fact that he feels such a strong pull to act out (“look at bad stuff online”), and struggles with sexually compulsive thoughts (undressing women mentally that he sees on the street) is a sign that he needs to do more work on the urges that are driving his recovery. In AA, they would talk about this as a “dry drunk” … someone who’s desperate to drink, and clinging to their sobriety by their fingernails. Once again this relates to the issue that there’s MORE things he needs to do for his recovery … OTHER THINGS than just having this accountability software.

By the way, I say this with no judgement. Pretty much every guy I’ve ever worked with has been in those same shoes. It’s just a sign that he needs to step up his work of recovery.

Here’s the important part for you to know: it’s NOT HEALTHY FOR YOU to be part of this. As you pointed out, it creates an unhealthy attachment for you to be digging into his history, turning you into a recovery policeman instead of a romantic partner … or as is the case now … an ex-romantic partner and friend.

5. I really don’t recommend that you continue getting these reports, even now as his ex-gf. Somebody else needs to get them. By continuing to do this role, you are hurting yourself, and you’re not really helping his recovery, because he needs to expand his “recovery team” to include a wider group of people.

So there you have it … I hope that’s helpful. Blessings to you as you work through your own sadness about this relationship, and try to set up healthy boundaries.

finding intimacy and freedom from pornography and sex addiction